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Partners Becoming Corporate Citizens: Shining a Light on the Golden State Warriors

A fundamental shift in how brands view their sponsorships has occurred over the past two years, prompted in large part by the impact of the pandemic, and other events that have focused attention on systemic inequality, social justice and other meaningful issues.

Consumers are looking to corporations to become part of the solution—or at least to acknowledge, address and push for positive change. While marketers have recognized that partnerships of all types—local and national sports, events, entertainment, and others, in addition, to cause and community programs—can play a prominent role in raising awareness, demonstrating commitment and making a difference.

This advancement does not change the definition of sponsorship, nor does it diminish the traditional benefits of brand partnerships. It adds another layer to what properties and sponsors can accomplish together.

Brands’ purpose-driven objectives also can lead to new funding for properties’ community-focused programs, as the example of United Airlines and the Golden State Warriors Franchise Fund program demonstrates.

United Airlines has formally added “inclusive partnerships” into its sponsorship function. This action codified and formalized an approach that began during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to look beyond traditional rights and benefits and assess how sponsorships can be used to impact communities through grassroots development, business development, and diversity and inclusion.

In discussing ways for the team to meet its contractual obligations to United after COVID-19 shortened the NBA season, United expressed its interest in inclusive partnerships and, in particular, helping minority-owned and/or black-owned businesses. The Warriors had been examining their investment in black- and minority-owned businesses and shared research showing that one of the barriers to doing business with minority suppliers was that many of these business owners don’t have the time, the bandwidth, and often the money, to get certified as Minority Business Enterprises.

From there, the two parties worked together with the Western Regional Minority Supplier Development Council and its certification program to develop the Franchise Fund and assist Bay Area businesses with certification by removing some of the barriers to the process.

The program shows the power of two organizations coming together on a project that either could have done on its own but by working together, they exponentially increased the impact, whether it’s using Warriors players to record videos that brought attention to it or leveraging the corporate resources of a global airline.

That type of partnership requires not only creative thinking on the part of the property’s sponsorship team but also its awareness of and connection to what is happening in other areas of the organization. If United’s partnership team at the Warriors were not aware of the club’s minority-supplier actions, it’s unlikely the Franchise Fund would exist today.

Rights holders should be prepared to work with current and prospective partners that are moving in this direction. They can look to the actions of companies that have been ahead of the wave in adjusting their sponsorship strategies.